On the last day of October, 2016, the largest automotive supplier nobody ever heard of started business.
That would be the $17 billion Adient, which launched on the New York Stock Exchange as a newly independent company and the world's No. 1 automotive seat maker.
Adient is the new name for the seating business of Johnson Controls Inc. Freed from its industrial conglomerate parent in a spinoff, Adient wants to use leaner operations and tax breaks to assert its primacy in seating for a new era of automaking.
It retains 34 percent of the global seating market. But competitors such as Faurecia SA, Lear Corp. and Magna International Inc. have moved aggressively for a piece of that amid the uncertainty that has hung over JCI's automotive businesses since CEO Alex Molinaroli decided to bail out of the cyclical automotive business and concentrate on JCI's building controls systems and batteries.
"We made up half the revenue and a third of the profits of that company," says Byron Foster, Adient executive vice president, speaking of automotive's share of JCI, where he has worked 19 years. As Molinaroli took over in late 2013, "he made it pretty clear he had a different vision for JCI. We've been in front of customers the whole time through that transition as to what they should expect."
Those automaker customers should expect a new company focused on seats and not forced to compete for the resources of the big industrial parent company.
Under JCI, capital investment was constrained during the previous couple of years, averaging $3 billion to $3.5 billion per year. Now the shackles are off, Foster says.
"We booked $5 billion in sales the last fiscal year. We're projecting we'll have another strong year in fiscal 2017.
"We'll be focused on growth," Foster says.
Adient, like its predecessor, will use foam extensively in its seats, and — also as JCI did — will use a combination of metal and plastic in seat structures and working components, with composite and hybrid material mixes making up more systems as the company looks to reduce weight.
The CAMISMA (carbon-amide-metal-based interior structure using a multi-material system approach) research project, which debuted at the North American International Auto Show in 2015, for example, claimed it could reduce the weight of seat structures by 40 percent with a combination of plastic and metal.